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Business stories to watch in 2013

A look at 11 executives, companies and business stories to watch in 2013:

Research In Motion and Thorsten Heins

The future of BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) is riding on the launch of its new smartphones and the BlackBerry 10 operating system, set to debut on Jan. 30. RIM faces an uphill battle against the latest iPhone and Android-powered devices, including Samsung's Galaxy S3 and the HTC Droid. While the initial reports of the new BlackBerry system have been positive and the stock has more than doubled since hitting its lows of the year, the launch is widely considered a make-or-break for the company.

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The fight for the Canadian shopping dollar is expected to intensify in 2013 as big U.S. discount retailer Target moves in and starts opening locations in March, luring shoppers with its cheap and chic merchandise. Canadian retailers such as Shoppers Drug Mart (TSX:SC), Hudson's Bay Co. (TSX:HBC), Canadian Tire (TSX:CTC.A) and Loblaw (TSX:L) have upped their game, but not since the arrival of Walmart have they seen such a competitor open up shop. The arrival of Target and the big red bull's eye follows the opening in Canada of stores by Ann Taylor, J.Crew, Kate Spade and Microsoft. And in 2014, high-end retailer Nordstrom is expected to start opening its first four stores in Canada.

CP Rail and Hunter Harrison

Chief executive Hunter Harrison was brought in to replace Fred Green in a bid to improve efficiency at Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. (TSX:CP) after a bitter proxy fight. The cuts have already started with a plan to cut about 4,500 including 1,700 by the end of 2012, but those aren't the only changes going on at the railroad. The former CN chief executive is also looking to sell surplus real estate, the Delaware and Hudson line in the U.S. Northeast and is moving CP's head office in downtown Calgary to its Ogden Yard by 2014.

BCE

Investors will be watching BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) and chief executive George Cope as they await the CRTC's decision on their revised plan to buy Astral Media Inc. (TSX:ACM.B). The federal broadcast regulator rejected an earlier proposal after a week of hearings in 2012 over concerns about the control the deal would give BCE over television broadcasting. Analysts have suggested that if the deal doesn't go ahead, BCE will have to look for other acquisitions to continue to grow its dividend, a view Cope has rejected.

Carney

Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney heads across the pond to take up the top job at the Bank of England. He has been widely lauded for his job at Canada's central bank during the financial crisis, but the former Goldman Sachs investment banker had it easier than most with a strong domestic banking sector here at home. The story isn't the same at the Bank of England and the job will be far more challenging as he takes over a central bank in a country faced with an uncertain economy.

Agrium

Jana Partners LLC and management at fertilizer company Agrium Inc. (TSX:AGU) appear headed for a showdown as the U.S. investment fund looks to replace five directors of the company's 11-member board. Jana wants Agrium to spin off its retail business, which supplies products such as fertilizer to farmers, from the part of its business that makes those products, but chief executive Mike Wilson has shown no sign of backing down and remains committed to the current strategy. Both sides will vie for shareholder support ahead of a vote in 2013.

Air Canada and WestJet

Both Air Canada (TSX:AC.B) and WestJet Airlines (TSX:WJA) head into the new year with plans to launch new airlines and move beyond their traditional bases. Air Canada is aiming at grabbing a share of the holiday travel market with its new discount airline Rouge by offering flights to the Caribbean and Europe, while WestJet is launching its regional airline, called Encore. The Air Canada plan follows Tango and Zip, both earlier attempts at breaking into the discount business.

Pipelines

The battles over Enbridge Inc.'s (TSX:ENB) Northern Gateway and TransCanada Corp.'s (TSX:TRP) Keystone XL are expected to continue in 2013 as pipeline companies seeking approval to build new capacity out of the oilsands clash with those worried about the dangers associated with piping the thick bitumen and heavy oil found in Alberta. Kinder Morgan has also proposed to expand its TransMountain pipeline from Alberta to the Vancouver area, while Enbridge is looking at expanding some of its pipes in the Great Lakes region and reversing the flow of a pipeline that currently runs from Montreal to southern Ontario.

Housing Debt

The pace of home sales has slowed and many think a soft landing has been achieved as prices have held relatively firm, but not everyone agrees. Canadians are loaded with record levels of debt and are vulnerable to increases in interest rates or an economic shock. If U.S. lawmakers fail to reach a deal to avoid spending cuts and tax hikes and the fragile U.S. economy heads back into recession, Canada could be in trouble too.

Oilsands deals

With its decision to allow the takeover of Nexen (TSX:NXY) by China National Offshore Oil Co., Ottawa also all but slammed the door on any future takeover deals in the oilsands by state-owned enterprises. The deep pockets of so-called SOEs have been a source of cash for the industry as it develops its expensive projects, so new sources of funding will have to be found. A joint venture between Encana Corp. (TSX:ECA) and PetroChina subsidiary Phoenix Duvernay Gas may be a sign of things to come as the Chinese firm acquired a 49.9 per cent stake in the project.

SNC-Lavalin

SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. (TSX:SNC) named American Robert Card as its new chief executive in 2012 as it worked to try to put investigations into the company and millions in payments to undisclosed agents behind it. However, since then, former chief executive Pierre Duhaime has been charged with fraud along with another former top executive by Quebec's anti-corruption squad and investigations remain ongoing.

The Canadian Press


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